Digital archives

Surrey History Centre Guidelines for Potential Depositors of Born-Digital Records


As Surrey County Council's supplier of choice at present is Microsoft, we recommend customers to use a Microsoft product, for example WORD, EXCEL. As Surrey County Council's data is migrated to newer Microsoft products (or possibly in future to another supplier), so digital archives can be migrated too.

Alternatively you might use open source software such as Open Office.

A proprietary file format for text-based content is PDF (portable document format). read using Adobe Acrobat reader (downloadable free of charge from the Web). The advantage of PDF files is that they cannot be edited or altered (although, of course, Word documents can also be protected).

Image files should be created as either JPEGs (smaller, lower resolution images) or TIFFs (higher resolution, larger image files). If possible, please could you supply both, with TIFF being preferable. Line drawings, such as certain computer-generated images, should be created as PNG or GIF files.

Organising and naming your files

It is very helpful to us if your digital files are organised into clearly labelled folders (for example minutes, annual accounts, project records) and that within each folder each file is named informatively and consistent with other similar files.

For example committee minutes might be named as such, followed by the date the meeting took place, constructed in such a way that the files appear in a logical order.
for example the minutes of the meeting of 1 March 2011 and 6 April 2011 might be named
Committee minutes 2011-03-01
Committee minutes 2011-04-06

Earlier drafts of documents should be deleted before deposit and ephemeral material such as copies of invoices and insignificant letters should also be removed.

It is an impossibly lengthy task to open and appraise the contents of a large number of files with unclear names and/or which are unorganised into folders and we may not be able to accept such records.

Please also be sure to inform us if any of the records contain potentially sensitive personal information about living individuals which may need to be closed to public access for a period to comply with Data Protection regulations.

Storage media

We can receive data on CD, DVD and memory stick. Floppy disks are problematical – please contact us for advice. Small quantities of digital data could be sent to us as email attachments but this is not recommended.

We will virus-check the data, ensure it is not corrupted and it will then be copied to our server and onto Mitsui Gold CDs. Public access to digital archives by researchers has to be provided via CD or DVD at present but ultimately we would hope that access will be provided online.

Storage prior to deposit

Prior to deposit you should consider backing up your data on a good quality external hard drive.

Alternatively you could copy data onto Mitsui Gold 700MB CDs which we use for our preservation copies of deposited digital records. Suppliers of Mitsui Gold CDs, considered among the most durable on the market, can be found by searching the internet.

It has been suggested that the inserts in CD cases could damage the CD. Conservation by Design sells 'Corrosion Intercept Replacement' CD Inserts which are designed to replace the paper inserts found in ordinary jewel cases (they act as a buffer between the disk and the plastic case).


We would like to encourage customers who send us digital archives to record metadata about the records. Metadata is information about the items and technical information needed to preserve them.

This might include documentation, in paper or electronic form, describing the purpose and content of the digital data, and instructions as to how to use it if a database for example.

For digital images, some metadata could be recorded during the initial creation process and often digitisation software can generate some of this information automatically. Important technical information would include:

  • Digitisation equipment was used (scanner, digital camera, software)
  • Date of digitisation
  • Name of person creating digital image
  • Resolution at which the image was scanned or taken (for example 600dpi)
  • Size of scanned image (for example 2.5Mb or 2310x2456 pixels)
  • Format in which the images are saved (for example TIFF, JPEG)
  • Name of digital file (which should be unique and reflect the description)

Other metadata concern the subject of the images themselves. The Dublin Core (DC) is an oft-cited example of metadata, and the basic fields it suggests are:

  • Title (brief description)
  • Creator (person who created the original)
  • Description (further description)
  • Subject (for example agriculture, transport)
  • Publisher (for example Francis Frith, photographer)
  • Date (of original)
  • Type (of document, for example photographic image)
  • Format and size or original (further description of type, for example. glass plate negative, 6in x 8.5in)
  • Identifier (any standard reference, for example ISBN number)
  • Source (any reference number on original)
  • Relation (reference of any related material)
  • Coverage (date and place of original)

IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) are important to establish when accessioning digital archives. If the digital archive is an image, we would like to know:
Who owns the original?

  • Who took the picture/scanned the image?
  • Are they happy for the image to be made available to the public?
  • Are there any copyright restrictions on its use, including providing hard copies and electronic copies, mounting on the Web, creating multiple copies for preservation, or migrating to alternative medium?
  • Would the owner of the original, and the depositor of the digital image, be happy for Surrey History Centre to license the use of high quality images and what restrictions, if any, would be placed on such licensing.

Further advice

Authoritative, up to date advice on digital preservation can be found on The National Archives website.

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